Frontlist | Old and almost-forgotten Tamil textbooks to get new lease of life

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Tamil textbooks which slipped out of common usage after the 1960s and 1970s, will soon be available online – even on popular e-commerce websites.

Tamil textbooks which slipped out of common usage after the 1960s and 1970s, will soon be available online – even on popular e-commerce websites. In 2017, the Tamil Nadu Textbook And Educational Services Corporation, embarked on a five-year project to revive, republish and digitise 1,000 old Tamil textbooks which were either lost or found rarely.

These books, which have only been circulated at public libraries or sold at book fairs, will soon be available for mass consumption through online sales, said a senior official from the textbook corporation. While restoration of 636 books is complete, the journey has yielded some surprising positive outcomes. The government project to restore and republish old Tamil books has helped revive lost vocabulary and overcome translation gaps in important technical books in Tamil.

Competitive exam boost
R Balakrishnan, a retired civil servant, who is now serving as the chief advisor (special initiatives) for the Odisha government, is also a member of the advisory committee to the textbook corporation on this project. He helps shortlist books that can be restored and propose ideas to increase the reach of these books. He told Express that over four decades ago, technical reading resources in Tamil were aplenty. “When I cleared the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) exams, I was the only candidate who had an undergraduate and masters degree in Tamil literature who was selected.

This was possible because libraries were stacked with diverse technical books in Tamil,” he said. Calling the years between 1950-1970 a ‘golden age’ for publishing of academic books in Tamil, he said that many books were directly released by the then Chief Ministers. “For example, I have read forewords written by MG Ramachandran and M Karunanidhi in books that were used by university students for reference. Tamil literature was taken very seriously then,” he said.

M Muruganantham, who wrote the UPSC exam in Tamil and cleared it in 2019, had been preparing since 2015. The new bureaucrat, who is now posted in Maharashtra, told Express that these revived books formed the backbone of his preparations. “Who writes the civil service exams in Tamil? It’s often poor students from rural areas,” said Muruganantham, who hails from a village near Pollachi. He said that this problem has led to an asymmetry of information, leaving Tamil speakers with lesser chance at clearing civil service exams.

“They do not have the finances or the exposure to buy expensive English books. I did not. In the last year of my preparation, I found these revived books providing me with a goldmine of reading resources,” he said. B Vinoth Kumar, who cleared Group I, Tamil Nadu Public Service Exams (TNPSC), and is training to be a deputy collector said that every time he had to read something, he would search the internet for reading materials in Tamil.

“I found scattered notes and content, but never could never find comprehensive Tamil works I could use for TNPSC preparations,” he said adding that these books changed that for him. “I read KK Pillai’s Thamizhaga Varalarum Makkalum Panpadum, which gave a detailed anthropological history of the State.

Filling translation gaps
Another impact the project had was in filling gaps in translation of school textbooks. The Tamil Nadu government in 2019, revamped the State board school textbook to bring them on par with textbooks published by the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT)  studied by CBSE students. However, the experts who wrote these textbooks were often stuck as many technical words in English did not have an accurate Tamil translation.

“Whenever they hit a roadblock on translating an English word into Tamil, these books came handy,” said TS Saravanan, the deputy director (translation), Tamil Nadu Textbook And Educational Services Corporation. He added that the content from the books also helped the government create preparatory material for NEET, JEE and other competitive exams.

Radar technology, oceanography, adolescent psychology, vascular differences in plants and anthropology are among the subjects that Tamil texbooks had between 1960 and 1980. Each of the 636 books have been carefully restored and republished and some of these have also been made free for public through the Tamil Virtual Academy online.


Source: The New Indian Express

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